Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions - Review  

The Same, Only Everyone's British
by Ryan "Balphon" Mack

Mostly Easy, at times Difficult
40-60 hours
Click here for scoring definitions 

   By now, fans of video games ought to have become well acquainted with the concept of a remake. After all, the cache of previously-published content is already an omnipresent resource in the development of new intellectual property. What could be a better idea, then, than returning to that old material with the benefit of the experience garnered since its creation, reforming it in ways which might marry the best of present technology with past intentions? Such is the logic behind the moves of some of the more high-profile developers in recent history, among them Capcom and, more obviously, Square-Enix. The latest among the latter's veritable hit parade of remakes is one cast from a PlayStation classic which recieved praise from fans despite glaring deficiencies in the localization process, among other things. A decade later, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, despite being more than just a bit-by-bit copy of the original, lives up to the legacy of its predecessor by presenting a few grating faults which detract from what is a very polished, enjoyable game overall.

   Even for those who missed Final Fantasy Tactics the first time around, The War of the Lions likely won't present any immediate surprises. Though small-scale, grid-based combat set in a three-dimensional isometric perspective was relatively unseen on the North American stage ten years ago, it has been refined and retuned in so many subsequent titles that even those with the most remote level of experience with the genre should be able to jump right into the game with relative ease. All the usual suspects are present, with characters moving about a chessboard-esque battlefield in an order determined by their respective speed statistics, employing attacks with a variety of ranges, effects and speeds in order to secure positioning advantages and, ultimately, victory. Though viscerally unsophisticated, this system does present layers of depth upon inspection. For one, characters don't simply disappear into the ether upon death, instead leaving a corpse which can either be revived or, if left unattended, turn into either a chest or a crystal. The former of these yields an item, while the latter endows its claimer a whole slew of abilities or a full HP and MP restore. These abilities are of vital import since, as with other games in the Final Fantasy series, The War of the Lions allows the player to develop his or her characters through the use of a very deep and remarkably intuitive job system which manfiests a staggering capacity for customization.

   However, despite being relatively deep and rather easy to pick up, the battle system itself simply feels dated. This certainly isn't helped by the fact that the sprite-based character renderings that populate the battle engine appear equally so, despite being quite expressive. Sure, they work within the overall aesthetic, but it seems at though some modification from the PlayStation original could have at least been attempted beyond the admittedly seamless move to a 16:9 aspect ratio. Moreover, the field itself does not fill the entire screen, and as such is set against a blank blue background that makes it appear as though the entire world is hanging in a spatial void, calling into sharp relief the already bland topography. One might be able to forgive these issues if the battle screen were merely a microcasm of the visual experience, but it serves as the engine for most of the game's cutscenes as well, and, static menus aside, is only cut away from for two reasons, the first of which is to visit the unremarkable world screen consisting of small points on a flat map.

A pleasant change from the original "Yo mama!". A pleasant change from the original "Yo mama!".

   The other reason, however, is one of the high points of the title. Interspersed throughout the narrative there are several fully voiced and cel-shaded full motion videos, which, to put it simply, are absolutely beautiful, capturing perfectly the mood and imagery of the game and saving its overall visual motif from the kind of bland, dated obscurity it would have fallen into otherwise. The voice acting, though limited, also comes over quite well, giving a spirit to the characters which is absent from the dialog-laden in-engine cutscenes. This is welcome, as the plot of The War of the Lions is complex to the point of becoming arcane. Not only is its explicit subject largely the interplay of various political and religious organizations on a national stage, but it also carries undercurrents of deception and intrigue which serve to confuse it even moreso.

   Thankfully, during the journey through this political quagmire, the player is rooted to a single figure: the game's protagonist, Ramza Beoulve. Youngest son of one of the several aristocratic houses that rule the land of Ivalice, he finds his life turned upside-down and his status changed from that of burgeoning knight-apprentice to hero on the run upon the apparent death of his common-born childhood friend and erstwhile companion, Delita Heiral. As the plot progresses, he experiences what seems like an unending string of betrayals and complications which somehow weave together into a narrative which, though it may take some time to contemplate, is still quite riveting, and is perhaps one of the most unique tales in the history of RPGs. Along the way, he'll encounter various individuals, some noble and some less than, who will join him on his questering unique skillsets which differ from those enjoyed by Ramza himself and the generic figures which assist during his various feats of derring-do. Some of these even come in the form of direct cameos, as do the two bandmates exclusive to the remake, Luso of Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and Balthier of Final Fantasy XII.

   Balthier, however, is not the only element of Final Fantasy XII's Ivalice to be transplanted into that of The War of the Lions. Also making the transition is the former game's ornate, almost delicate prose style more reminiscent of Shakespearean English than the oft-maligned Engrish of the PlayStation title. This is owed to an entirely redone localization process which was obviously undertaken carefully, resulting in a script which conveys both meaning and feeling in a fashion which just feels complete. Unfortunately, what also made the leap over the Pacific was a palpable sense of slowdown during the more graphically intense in-combat animations, such as magic spells and flashy swordskills. Though those unfamiliar with the original might not notice it at first, there are many instances when it is thoroughly obvious, as the accompanying sound effects will seem off, since they are playing at full speed. Still, though ubiquitous, this one issue is not enough to completely destroy the experience, especially in light of the fact that the sound effects themselves, even when broadcast through the PSP's anemic speakers, remain vibrant and remarkably lively, just as they were a decade ago.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like if we had noses? Did you ever wonder what it would be like if we had noses?

   In fact, the blow offered by the slowdown is perhaps further cushioned by the fact that The War of the Lions is a long game to begin with, and those willing to settle in for the long haul are likely to have enough patience to overlook it. Clocking in at 40 to 50 hours on the low end, there's simply a lot of game here to play, as the narrative is deceptively lengthy and the gameplay involved enough to prevent it from becoming stale. That said, the game leaves something to be desired when it comes to difficulty, as the way characters are developed encourages the player to spend large amounts of time levelling which, though surprisingly not tedious, nonetheless tends to leave him or her overprepared for the actual story battles. Still, there are a few occasions where the combat becomes unexpectedly hard, keeping the player on his or her toes enough to provide an experience which is varied, though not consistently so, in its challenge.

   To sum up, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is a game which easily fits into the form cast by its PlayStation origins, presenting the player with engaging combat and an interesting story which should manage to retain one's interest despite its recurrent flaws. The new elements, the thoroughly revised script in particular, are a welcome addition, and all serve to create a more lasting, unified experience. In brief, it's a quality title even for those who experienced it a few consoles ago.

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